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Open Features: 9 - In Namibia

"Our guest house, booked from their advert in the Namibian Yellow Pages, was – different. As we entered Keetmanshoop there were signs directing us to BRIDGET’S BEDS AND BREAKFAST. We fervently hoped that the breakfast wouldn’t be as small as the printing of the word on the signs...'' Isabel Bradley and her husband Leon go touring and exploring in Namibia.

Namibia had three public holidays in one week. I did hear what they were, but can’t remember. Anyhow, we took the opportunity to drive to Luderitz. The area inland from Oranjemund for about a hundred kilometres, and up to Luderitz, is “Sperrgebiet” – forbidden territory, because of the diamonds. No-one is allowed in there without a permit, and if found, punishment is severe.

There is a very rough gravel road within Namibia around the edge of the Sperrgebiet. Unfortunately, our lovely sporty Mazda wouldn’t survive the rattling… So we left the “secure” Namdeb area of Oranjemund, going through the border post out of Namibia and into South Africa just across the Orange River.

From Alexander Bay Border Post, we drove down the coast road, across the Holgat Riverbed – there’s no water to be seen. In the old days when Leon lived here, the road was gravel, and there was a car lying on its roof in the riverbed in the sand and scrub bush. Now, thank goodness, the wrecked car is no longer there and the road is tarred all the way to Port Nolloth. There, we photographed the museum and the train carriage that would have travelled by donkey-power on the special narrow-gauge railway from Springbok.

Next stop – after about a hundred kilometres driving east – was Steinkop, where we filled the car with petrol, then we drove north to Vioolsdrif. The road followed an imperceptible but continuous downhill. We drove through Vyfmylpoort – Five Mile Gap – and into the valley. The scenery is spectacular. The gap winds through the most arid mountains I’ve ever seen, piles of boulders and shale with very little visibly alive on them. On one side of the road was an unfenced grave-yard, guarded by a bright yellow gate. As we approached the end of this gap in the mountains, we saw high orange cliffs, shaped like the side of a canyon, at the bottom of which rushed the biggest of South Africa’s rivers. In the river valley were vineyards, a very startling green against the browns and oranges of the surrounding country.

At Vioolsdrif, we once again went through a South African Border post and crossed the Orange River back into Namibia. The Namibian border post was in a village called Noordoewer, where there were several formalities that we hadn’t experienced going into in Oranjemund, including a trip through customs, and paying a fee to be permitted to drive our car in the country.

As always, when driving, we watched the surrounding countryside for birds – mostly pale chanting goshawk (does it chant palely, or is it pale and does it chant, I wonder?), and martial eagle. And lots of crows. We drove into a moonscape of pointed, naked, shiny-skinned hills, then through more piled mounds of boulders on barren plains, smeared with drifts of yellow wild-flowers. Towards Grünau, the country became a little greener.

We drove steadily uphill again, away from the river valley, leaving the mountains and the heaps of stone behind, and on to a plateau covered in pale yellow, seeded grass where karakul sheep used to graze. Now it is mutton-sheep one sees there, and occasionally cattle. Through storms and swarms of insects, we drove, the windshield covered in squashed dead things. The landscape became greener and full of short thorn trees, rich green and gold grasses, and jagged mountains scratching the sky on the distant horizons. Dry river beds called Jakkalswater and Dassiefontein were crossed, and Leon spotted a dassie or two on the rocks at the side of the road.

Keetmanshoop was our stopping-place for the night. After quiet little Oranjemund, and all the villages between, this was quite a metropolis. Enough to have four sets of traffic lights! Of course, they each stopped us…

Our guest house, booked from their advert in the Namibian Yellow Pages, was – different. As we entered Keetmanshoop there were signs directing us to BRIDGET’S BEDS AND BREAKFAST. We fervently hoped that the breakfast wouldn’t be as small as the printing of the word on the signs. From the main road, we saw BRIDGET’S BEDS emblazoned on a salmon-pink pre-cast wall on the other side of the railway tracks. We drove through two more traffic lights – once they turned green – and down a gravel road, and found the doorbell and intercom hidden in a cash box next to the pedestrian gate. An Afrikaans tannie came out, and we identified ourselves, she let us in and we parked and were shown our room.

Bearing in mind that since arriving in Oranjemund, we’ve been sleeping in two single beds squashed together, with Leon sleeping over the crack, you can understand that we were looking forward to the double bed I’d requested. Namibia, however, doesn’t provide double beds. Certainly, Bridget’s Beds are very narrow, single beds, immovably separated by a bedside cupboard combined with a mirror and rickety-rockety headboard… The duvets were mingy, there was only one pillow each, no spare toilet-paper, no soaps or the delightful body lotions, shampoos and conditioners that good guest-houses supply. NOT the best place we’d ever stayed. And it rained! To add insult to injury, only one reading lamp worked. And a train seemed to rumble right through our room, coming in through the bathroom window, and exiting around those shaky headboards! The windows, high on the walls with skimpy curtains, were all in “bathroom” glass – that mottled, frosted, patterned stuff they put into bathroom windows to stop people looking in. Or out.

When we went out later to look for the Central Lodge, recommended for dinner, we noticed that the purple sign on the pink wall was lit with bright purple strips of fluorescent lighting. Shudder. Central Lodge was where we should have stayed. Or anywhere else in Keetmanshoop. We enjoyed our evening meal, taking ages over it and chatting about all sorts of things from the history of Namibia (previously South West Africa), to the war that the South African Government made its boys fight in the Caprivi Strip in the far north, bordering Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe. My brother fought in that war, as did so many of my young friends, way back in the 1970’s. Hard to believe it’s thirty years ago. We were grateful that the trains did not run during the night! Breakfast, all things considered, was not bad…

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